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EN BANC

[A.C. No. 2505. February 21, 1992.]

LEDA complainant, vs. ATTY. TREBONIAN TABANG ,


EVANGELINE LEDA,
respondent.

SYLLABUS

1. LEGAL ETHICS; CODE OF PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY; ADMISSION TO THE


BAR; GROSS MISREPRESENTATION AS A GROUND. Respondent's declaration in his
application for admission to the 1981 Bar Examinations that he was "single" was a gross
misrepresentation of a material fact made in utter bad faith, for which he should be made
answerable. Rule 7.01, Canon 7, Chapter II of the Code of Professional Responsibility
explicitly provides: "A lawyer shall be answerable for knowingly making a false statement
or suppression of a material fact in connection with his application for admission to the
bar." That false statement, if it had been known, would have disqualified him outright from
taking the Bar Examinations as it indubitably exhibits lack of good moral character.
2. CIVIL LAW; MARRIAGES OF EXCEPTIONAL CHARACTER; REQUISITES AND
CONDITIONS PRESUMED TO HAVE BEEN MET. Respondent can not assume that his
marriage to Complainant is void. The presumption is that all the requisites and conditions
of a marriage of an exceptional character under Article 76 of the Civil Code have been met
and that the Judge's official duty in connection therewith has been regularly performed.
3. LEGAL ETHICS; CODE OF PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY; ADOPTING
CONFLICTING POSITIONS IN PLEADINGS, DUPLICITOUS AND DEPLORABLE.
Respondent's conduct in adopting conflicting positions in the various pleadings submitted
in Bar Matter No. 78 and in the case at bar is duplicitous and deplorable. Respondent has
resorted to conflicting submissions before this Court to suit himself. He has also engaged
in devious tactics with Complainant in order to serve his purpose. In so doing, he has
violated Canon 10 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which provides that "a lawyer
owes candor, fairness and good faith to the court" as well as Rule 1001 thereof which
states that "a lawyer should do no falsehood nor consent to the doing of any in Court; nor
shall he mislead, or allow the court to be misled by any artifice."
4. ID.; ID.; COURTS ENTITLED TO EXPECT COMPLETE CANDOR AND HONESTY FROM
LAWYERS APPEARING AND PLEADING BEFORE THEM. Courts are entitled to expect
only complete candor and honesty from the lawyers appearing and pleading before them
(Chavez v. Viola, Adm. Case No. 2152, 19 April 1991, 196 SCRA 10). Respondent, through
his actuations, has been lacking in the candor required of him not only as a member of the
Bar but also as an officer of the Court.
5. ID.; ID.; GOOD MORAL CHARACTER, ESSENTIAL FOR ADMISSION TO AND FOR
REMAINING IN THE PRACTICE OF LAW. It cannot be overemphasized that the
requirement of good moral character is not only a condition precedent to admission to the
practice of law; its continued possession is also essential for remaining in the practice of
law (People v. Tuanda, Adm. Case No. 3360, 30 January 1990, 181 SCRA 692).
6. ID.; ID.; COURTS RETAIN THE POWER TO DISCIPLINE AN ATTORNEY. As so aptly
put by Mr. Justice George A. Malcolm: "As good character is an essential qualification for
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admission of an attorney to practice, when the attorney's character is bad in such respects
as to show that he is unsafe and unfit to be entrusted with the powers of an attorney, the
courts retain the power to discipline him (Piatt v. Abordo, 58 Phil. 350 [1933]).
7. ID.; ID.; INDEFINITE SUSPENSION IMPOSED WHERE LAWYER IS FOUND EVIDENTLY
LACKING IN GOOD MORAL CHARACTER. Wherefore, finding respondent Trebonian C.
Tabang grossly and unworthy to continue to be entrusted with the duties and
responsibilities belonging to the office of an attorney, he is hereby SUSPENDED from the
practice of law until further Orders, the suspension to take effect immediately.

DECISION

PER CURIAM : p

Complainant, Evangeline Leda, squarely puts in issue respondent Atty. Trebonian Tabang's
good moral character, in two Complaints she had filed against him, one docketed as Bar
Matter No. 78 instituted on 6 January 1982, and the present Administrative Case No. 2505,
which is a Petition for Disbarment, filed on 14 February 1983.
It appears that on 3 October 1976, Respondent and Complainant contracted marriage at
Tigbauan, Iloilo. The marriage, solemnized by Judge Jose T. Tavarro of Tigbauan, was
performed under Article 76 of the Civil Code 1 as one of exceptional character (Annex "A,"
Petition).
The parties agreed to keep the fact of marriage a secret until after Respondent had
finished his law studies (began in 1977), and had taken the Bar examinations (in 1981),
allegedly to ensure a stable future for them. Complainant admits, though, that they had not
lived together as husband and wife (Letter-Complaint, 6 January 1982). prLL

Respondent finished his law studies in 1981 and thereafter applied to take the Bar. In his
application, he declared that he was "single." He then passed the examinations but
Complainant blocked him from taking his Oath by instituting Bar Matter No. 78, claiming
that Respondent had acted fraudulently in filling out his application and, thus, was
unworthy to take the Lawyer's Oath for lack of good moral character. Complainant also
alleged that after Respondent's law studies, he became aloof and "abandoned" her
(Petition, par. 5).
The Court deferred Respondent's Oath-taking and required him to answer the Complaint.
Respondent filed his "Explanation," dated 26 May 1982 which was received on 7 June
1982. Said "Explanation" carries Complainant's conformity (Records, p. 6). Therein, he
admitted that he was "legally married" to Complainant on 3 October 1976 but that the
marriage "was not as yet made and declared public" so that he could proceed with his law
studies and until after he could take the Bar examinations "in order to keep stable our
future." He also admitted having indicated that he was "single" in his application to take the
Bar "for reason that to my honest belief, I have still to declare my status as single since my
marriage with the complainant was not as yet made and declared public." He further
averred that he and Complainant had reconciled as shown by her conformity to the
"Explanation," for which reason he prayed that the Complaint be dismissed. llcd

Respondent also filed a Motion to Dismiss, dated 2 June 1982. Attached to it was
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Complainant's Affidavit of Desistance, which stated that Bar Matter No. 78 arose out of a
misunderstanding and communication gap and that she was refraining from pursuing her
Complaint against Respondent.
Acting on the aforesaid Motion and Comment, the Court dismissed Bar Matter No. 78 and
allowed Respondent to take his Oath in a Resolution dated 20 August 1982.
On 14 February 1983, however, Complainant filed this Administrative Case, this time
praying for Respondent's disbarment based on the following grounds:
"a. For having made use of his legal knowledge to contract an invalid
marriage with me assuming that our marriage is not valid, and making a mockery
of our marriage institution.

"b. For having misrepresented himself as single when in truth he is already


married in his application to take the bar exam.

"c. For being not of good moral character contrary to the certification he
submitted to the Supreme Court;

"d. For (sic) guilty of deception for the reason that he deceived me into
signing the affidavit of desistance and the conformity to his explanation and later
on the comment to his motion to dismiss, when in truth and in fact he is not
sincere, for he only befriended me to resume our marriage and introduced me to
his family, friends and relatives as his wife, for a bad motive that is he wanted me
to withdraw my complaint against him with the Supreme Court."

Attached to Complainant's Petition for Disbarment, as Annex "F," is an undated and


unsigned letter addressed to Complainant, allegedly written by Respondent after he had
already taken his Oath stating, among others, that while he was grateful for Complainant's
help, he "could not force myself to be yours," did not love her anymore and considered her
only a friend. Their marriage contract was actually void for failure to comply with the
requisites of Article 76 of the Civil Code, among them the minimum cohabitation for five
(5) years before the celebration of the marriage, an affidavit to that effect by the
solemnizing officer, and that the parties must be at least twenty-one (21) years of age,
which they were not as they were both only twenty years old at the time. He advised
Complainant not to do anything more so as not to put her family name "in shame." As for
him, he had "attain(ed) my goal as a full pledge (sic) professional and there is nothing you
can do for it to take away from me even (sic) you go to any court." According to
Complainant, although the letter was unsigned, Respondent's initials appear on the upper
left-hand corner of the airmail envelope (Exh. "8-A-1").
Respondent denies emphatically that he had sent such a letter contending that it is
Complainant who has been indulging in fantasy and fabrications.
In his Comment in the present case, Respondent avers that he and Complainant had
covenanted not to disclose the marriage not because he wanted to finish his studies and
take the Bar first but for the reason that said marriage was void from the beginning in the
absence of the requisites of Article 76 of the Civil Code that the contracting parties shall
have lived together as husband and wife for at least five (5) years before the date of the
marriage and that said parties shall state the same in an affidavit before any person
authorized by law to administer oaths. He could not have abandoned Complainant because
they had never lived together as husband and wife. When he applied for the 1981 Bar
examinations, he honestly believed that in the eyes of the law, he was single.
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On 7 May 1984, the Court referred the Complaint to the Solicitor General for investigation,
report and recommendation. On 5 March 1990, the Solicitor General submitted his Report,
with the recommendation that Respondent be exonerated from the charges against him
since Complainant failed to attend the hearings and to substantiate her charges but that
he be reprimanded for making inconsistent and conflicting statements in the various
pleadings he had filed before this Court.

On 26 March 1990, the Court referred the Solicitor General's Report to the Bar Confidant
for evaluation, report and recommendation. In an undated Report, the latter recommended
the indefinite suspension of Respondent until the status of his marriage is settled.
Upon the facts on record, even without testimonial evidence from Complainant, we find
Respondent's lack of good moral character sufficiently established.
Firstly, his declaration in his application for admission to the 1981 Bar Examinations that
he was "single" was a gross misrepresentation of a material fact made in utter bad faith,
for which he should be made answerable. Rule 7.01, Canon 7, Chapter II of the Code of
Professional Responsibility explicitly provides: "A lawyer shall be answerable for knowingly
making a false statement or suppression of a material fact in connection with his
application for admission to the bar." That false statement, if it had been known, would
have disqualified him outright from taking the Bar Examinations as it indubitably exhibits
lack of good moral character.
Respondent's protestations that he had acted in good faith in declaring his status as
"single" not only because of his pact with Complainant to keep the marriage under wraps
but also because that marriage to the Complainant was void from the beginning, are mere
afterthoughts absolutely wanting of merit. Respondent can not assume that his marriage
to Complainant is void. The presumption is that all the requisites and conditions of a
marriage of an exceptional character under Article 76 of the Civil Code have been met and
that the Judge's official duty in connection therewith has been regularly performed. LexLib

Secondly, Respondent's conduct in adopting conflicting positions in the various pleadings


submitted in Bar Matter No. 78 and in the case at bar is duplicitous and deplorable.
The records show that in Bar Matter No. 78, Respondent had submitted an "Explanation," in
paragraph 1, page 1 of which he admits having been "legally married" to Complainant. Yet,
during the hearings before the Solicitor General, he denied under oath that he had
submitted any such pleading (t.s.n., p. 21) contending instead that it is only the second
page where his signature appears that he meant to admit and not the averments on the
first page which were merely of Complainant's own making (ibid., pp. 59-60). However, in
his Comment in this Administrative Case, he admits and makes reference to such
"Explanation" (pars. 3[f]) and [g]; 4[b]).
Again, while in said "Explanation" he admitted having been "legally married" to Complainant
(par. 1), in this case, however, he denies the legality of the marriage and, instead, harps on
its being void ab initio. He even denies his signature in the marriage contract.
In Bar Matter No. 78, Respondent also averred that the fact of marriage was not to be
made public so as to allow him to finish his studies and take the Bar. In this case, however,
he contends that the reason it was kept a secret was because it was "not in order from the
beginning."

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Thirdly, Respondent denies that he had sent the unsigned letter (Annex "F," Petition) to
Complainant. However, its very tenor coincides with the reasons that he advances in his
Comment why the marriage is void from the beginning, that is, for failure to comply with
the requisites of Article 76 of the Civil Code.
Fourthly, the factual scenario gathered from the records shows that Respondent had
reconciled with Complainant and admitted the marriage to put a quick finish to Bar Matter
No. 78 to enable him to take the lawyer's Oath, which otherwise he would have been unable
to do. But after he had done so and had become a "full-pledge (sic) lawyer," he again
refused to honor his marriage to Complainant.
Respondent's lack of good moral character is only too evident. He has resorted to
conflicting submissions before this Court to suit himself. He has also engaged in devious
tactics with Complainant in order to serve his purpose. In so doing, he has violated Canon
10 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which provides that "a lawyer owes candor,
fairness and good faith to the court" as well as Rule 1001 thereof which states that "a
lawyer should do no falsehood nor consent to the doing of any in Court; nor shall he
mislead, or allow the court to be misled by any artifice." Courts are entitled to expect only
complete candor and honesty from the lawyers appearing and pleading before them
(Chavez v. Viola, Adm. Case No. 2152, 19 April 1991, 196 SCRA 10). Respondent, through
his actuations, has been lacking in the candor required of him not only as a member of the
Bar but also as an officer of the Court. LibLex

It cannot be overemphasized that the requirement of good moral character is not only a
condition precedent to admission to the practice of law; its continued possession is also
essential for remaining in the practice of law (People v. Tuanda, Adm. Case No. 3360, 30
January 1990, 181 SCRA 692). As so aptly put by Mr. Justice George A. Malcolm: "As good
character is an essential qualification for admission of an attorney to practice, when the
attorney's character is bad in such respects as to show that he is unsafe and unfit to be
entrusted with the powers of an attorney, the courts retain the power to discipline him
(Piatt v. Abordo, 58 Phil. 350 [1933]).
WHEREFORE, finding respondent Trebonian C. Tabang grossly unfit and unworthy to
continue to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities belonging to the office of an
attorney, he is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law until further Orders, the
suspension to take effect immediately.
Copies of this Decision shall be entered in his personal record as an attorney and served
on the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Court Administrator who shall circulate the
same to all Courts in the country for their information and guidance.
SO ORDERED.
Melencio-Herrera, Gutierrez, Jr., Cruz, Paras, Feliciano, Padilla, Bidin, Grio-Aquino,
Medialdea, Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero and Nocon, JJ., concur.
Footnotes

1. ART. 76. No marriage license shall be necessary when a man and a woman who have
attained the age of majority and who, being unmarried, have lived together as husband
and wife for at least five years, desire to marry each other. The contracting parties shall
state the foregoing facts in an affidavit before any person authorized by law to
administer oaths. The official, priest or minister who solemnized the marriage shall also
state in an affidavit that he took steps to ascertain the ages and other qualifications of
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the contracting parties and that he found no legal impediment to the marriage.

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